PFA expects common sense to soon prevail around A-League international break

Wellington Phoenix captain Andrew Durante (left) will be wearing his All Whites shirt this weekend while his club team ...

Wellington Phoenix captain Andrew Durante (left) will be wearing his All Whites shirt this weekend while his club team play without him.

Nothing can stop the Wellington Phoenix being forced to play without seven players this weekend, but change could be on the way.

The Phoenix will be without six All Whites and Fiji's captain Roy Krishna for their match against the Newcastle Jets on Sunday because the Hyundai A-League remains one of the few top-level leagues in the world that does not stop during Fifa international windows.

The Phoenix weren't the only team hit, with Melbourne Victory losing four players and four other clubs also without key players.

It was a situation which Professional Footballers Australia chief executive John Didulica said could not continue.

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"The whole competition structure, the salary cap and other things, is based on having competitive balance in the competition and to force Wellington to play with not just a large number of players missing, but invariably their better players, puts them in a really difficult position which undermines the broader competition.

"It's been a long-standing policy of the A-League not to stop for international breaks, it started when the league started 12 years ago and like many things it becomes practice and becomes too hard for people to move away from practice.

"We have challenges in the A-League around pitch availability and broadcast obligations, but I think the time has come to start moving away from that and start prioritising having the best players on the park."

Part of the argument around not stopping for these weekends is to complete the season while the AFL and NRL seasons are still in their infancy.

But with the winter codes increasingly trying to encroach on the summer season with their Nines and Tens and AFL women's competitions, as well as the huge increase in interest in cricket's Big Bash, Didulica said the notion that the A-League could fit in around those sports was no longer relevant.

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"We can't contract to work around them, we need to do what's in our own best interests and I think it's in the best interests of the league and the players to have those days off and let the guys do their international games, which they love doing." 

The other aspect of this issue was player welfare.

The Phoenix's All Whites had to more than 24 hours of travel to get from North America to Perth last October, while they will play two games in four days this weekend before rejoining the Phoenix squad to travel to Melbourne.

"That doesn't do anybody any favours, that's not what we want the competition to be and I think our league is at a point now where it doesn't need to worry too much about what the other sports are doing, it should be able to stand on its own two feet," Didulica said.

Didulica was hopeful that change was on the way after positive discussions with A-League boss Greg O'Rourke.

"What we're hearing from FFA is quite encouraging around identifying the impact international matchdays have, particularly on Wellington, and the next step is to find an alternate solution to ensure we have a fair competition." 

The preferred solution is for the league to stop on these weekends. 

Some have suggested the league copy the lower leagues of England, where matches are postponed if three players are called up for international duty, but Didulica said that was not feasible in the A-League given players are often called up late, stadiums need to be booked well in advance and the league features some of the longest travel distances of any league in the world.

 - Stuff


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